Sibling Visitation: a Child's Right

Publication year1993
22 Colo.Law. 283
Colorado Lawyer

1993, February, Pg. 283. Sibling Visitation: A Child's Right


Vol. 22, No. 2, Pg. 283

Sibling Visitation: A Child's Right

by Seth A. Grob

The American nuclear family has become an endangered species during the last decade. With the increase in the divorce rate, children have been relegated to living with a single parent or have been integrated into a new family setting which often includes a step-parent, step-children and half-siblings.(fn1)

One of the least-addressed consequences of family breakups is that many children are separated from their siblings and half-siblings. Due to the animosity between former spouses, their children often grow up denied of an opportunity to foster a relationship with their whole and half-blooded brothers and sisters. The scenario discussed below illustrates this growing problem.

One Family's Breakup

Joan and Bill Jones were married in 1973. They had two children from that marriage: Kevin, born in 1978, and Mary, born in 1979. Pursuant to a divorce in 1983, Joan was granted sole custody of both children, while Bill was given visitation rights. Joan and Bill both married new mates in 1985.

During Bill's second marriage, Susie was born in 1987. For four years, Kevin and Mary visited their biological father every other weekend. During that time, they established a strong relationship with Susie, their half-sister. However, early in 1992, Bill's relationship with his former spouse and children, Kevin and Mary, deteriorated significantly. Consequently, Bill saw the children only occasionally and expressly forbade them to see Susie. Thus, Kevin and Mary have not had any contact with Susie during the past year.

This and similar scenarios raise important issues for attorneys and child advocates alike in pursuing visitation rights for siblings. For example, questions arise concerning whether children have any visitation rights and whether parental decisions restricting visitation should be binding on siblings. This article explores the answers to these questions and looks at how Colorado and other states have addressed this problem. It also outlines the arguments that can be advanced on behalf of children seeking visitation with their brothers and sisters.(fn2)

Issue of First Impression

A survey of Colorado law reveals that the precise issue of sibling and half-sibling visitation is one of first impression. Therefore, it appears to be ripe for litigation. The Colorado General Assembly has vested grandparents with the right to move for visitation when there is or has been a child custody case.(fn3) However, Colorado has no statutes or case law dealing specifically with sibling visitation.

The primary visitation statute merely provides that a "parent not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable visitation rights...."(fn4) On its face, this statute authorizes only a noncustodial parent to pursue visitation with his or her child. Neither siblings nor a next of friend(fn5) on their behalf appears to have standing to bring an action to compel visitation between...

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